11:30 PM Eastern
I’m not going to go over what was said in Senator George Mitchell’s report on his 20-month investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, there are plenty of places to find out the nuts and bolts all over the interweb. I’m just going to let you know what I think.
Was today the darkest day in baseball since the 1919 Black Sox Scandal came to light? I don’t think so. I mean, this was pretty rough, seeing a whole boatload of players dragged through the sludge that they themselves created, but really, how many people are truly surprised?
You might not have wanted to think that steroids were so prevalent in baseball over the last 20 or 25 years, and you might have wanted to think that nobody was cheating except for Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi, but if you really looked at what was going on, you had to know.
I’ll tell you, I’m more surprised by the fact that certain names were NOT mentioned in the report then I am by the 97 names that were there. Immediately, I couldn’t believe that people like Juan Gonzalez, who won two MVPs then fell off a cliff, performance-wise, Ivan Rodriguez, who mysteriously deflated by about 25 pounds in one off-season, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa didn’t appear, as well as a few others I would have wagered a whole lot of money on.
But then I realized that, basically, Mitchell only had two sources. Kirk Radomski, the Mets’ clubhouse attendant, and Brian McNamee, the former Blue Jay strength and conditioning coach, neither of whom would have said anything if they didn’t have their butts in a sling, legally speaking. And with just those two sources, and really no other co-operation at all, look at how much information Mitchell managed to get. And take from that just how many other sources there are out there that Mitchell couldn’t get to co-operate with the investigation, and how many other cheaters there are.
Is anyone truly surprised that Roger Clemens’ name was on the list? I have heard so many people over the past few years say that all the evidence they needed to convict Barry Bonds in their minds was a picture of him in 1988 and a picture of him in 2001. Well, take a look at those same pictures of Clemens.
Was Howie Clark’s inclusion in the report a stunner? Sure, until you think about the fact that he’s exactly the kind of guy for whom performance-enhancing drugs would do the most good. He goes from a fringe AAA player who never gets a sniff to a guy who gets a few cups of coffee and a few paychecks at the big-league minimum. He, and Adam Piatt, Phil Hiatt, Tim Laker, Gary Bennett, Larry Bigbie, F.P. Santangelo, Brendan Donnelly, Chad Allen, just to name a few – these are the guys who never would have made it to the bigs without help, and these are the guys who were stealing jobs from the people who might otherwise have been able to eke out a small living as fringe major-leaguers.
What I liked about the report was that Mitchell used the term “detectable” steroid use, and that he said the use of detectable steroids only “appears” to have declined since the more stringent testing was implemented in 2004. He also said that the use of hGH has risen since then. No illusions that the game is now clean and we can move on from the steroids era. He called out the Commissioner’s Office for not acting faster when the issue of steroids began to show up more prominently, and for not acting effectively until, basically, the U.S. Congress put a gun to its head in 2002.
What I didn’t like about the report was that no prominent member of the Boston Red Sox was mentioned. Clemens and Mo Vaughn are in there, but in both cases, the Report states that their wrongdoings began after they left Boston. Mitchell has a conflict of interest here, since he’s on the board of the Red Sox.
But if that’s my biggest complaint, that’s not so bad. Maybe all the Red Sox are clean. But probably not. It’s just that Mitchell only got a Mets guy and a Blue Jay/Yankee guy to roll over.
As for Bud Selig’s response, I really didn’t like the fact that he so completely deflected any responsibility for this mess from himself and his office. The fact is, baseball loved the fact that the home run chase brought them back into prominence after the 1994 strike tore the hearts out of a lot of baseball fans, and they loved seeing attendance and revenues rise up year after year. I might believe that most executives and front-office people had no direct knowledge of any players using steroids or hGH, but I don’t for a second believe anyone who says they weren’t suspicious.
So the question is, what happens now? Does public opinion turn as hard on Clemens as it has on Barry Bonds? Will a movement arise to keep him out of the Hall of Fame? Does public opinion turn back in favour of a guy like McGwire, now that it’s coming to light – on the record - just how widespread the problem is? Or do people just not care? As long as they get their pound of flesh out of Bonds, are fans willing to let almost everyone else slide?
I’m very interested to see what happens over the course of the next few weeks and months, especially with the Bonds/Clemens comparison. If there’s no great uproar about Clemens and his 350 wins and seven Cy Youngs and claim to being perhaps the best pitcher in history, then I might start to believe the people who say racism has a lot to do with the perception of Barry Bonds. I really don’t want to believe that, though. I think it has more to do with Bonds being an ass, but then, Clemens isn’t exactly Mr. Friendly himself.
Finally, can we stop with all the romanticizing and deifying of pro athletes? Fans build them up so much, to standards to which it’s almost impossible to live up. How many times did we hear about Clemens’ unbelievable workout regimen, that he trained harder and longer than people 10 or 15 years younger? There was a story that Rafael Palmeiro went from being a guy who hit 45 doubles and 18 homers a year to a guy who hit 40 homers a year because his father told him one off-season that he needed to hit for more power if he wanted to stay in the big leagues, because first basemen hit home runs, so he DECIDED TO HIT MORE HOME RUNS! And people bought that. Let’s stop the myth-making, and realize that these are just human beings who are simply incredibly good at playing a game. Maybe that will lessen the blow when they’re shown to have human failings.
Oh, and don’t buy for a second any player who uses the word “mistake” if he should shift from deny-deny-deny mode to contrition mode. A mistake is grabbing a Coke out of the fridge when you meant to grab a root beer (though one could say that the simple act of drinking root beer, in and of itself, is a mistake). A mistake is putting the car into second gear instead of fourth. A mistake is thinking you have a pitcher’s move timed, taking off for second base and being picked off by 30 feet. A mistake is NOT making a conscious decision to do something that one knows is wrong.
I don’t think anything changes as a result of the Mitchell Report, except that maybe sports fans get more cynical, which isn’t a good thing for the kids, but probably a good idea for everybody else. I believe that the cheaters will always be ahead of the testers, and that anyone who really wants to get a leg up illegally will be able to do it. And of course, you can’t test for hGH.
It’s sad, but it’s reality.
Comments are welcome, and the e-mail factory is always open at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, the family vacation begins in eight hours, and doesn’t end until Tuesday night, so check back then for the next installment!